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Layne Redmond

Paper Presentation Friday 1:00 p.m. CC Room 213 World Clinic Friday 9:00 a.m. Music City Ballroom

Percussion Instruments of Ancient Greece


BY LAYNE REDMOND

reek music was influenced by Anatolian (ancient Turkey), was at the oldest core of religious rituals, festivals, and procesMinoan Crete, Phoenician Cyprus, and Egyptian culsions. Dance, poetry, rite, and music were considered insepatures. My research began by examining the percussion rable. Strabo states that music is dancing as well as rhythm from these earlier surrounding cultures, then focused on Greek and melody, at the same time3 images and texts from the 6th to 1st century BCE and followed Religious dances, especially those honoring Dionysos, the god the Greek musical influence into later Roman culture. The perof intoxication and creative ecstasy, are believed to be the origin cussion instrumentsframe drum (tympanon), cymbals, of the dance in Greek drama. Initiates of a cult could participate krotalas, sistrums and clappersare the same percussion inin the yearly festival of dramatic rites reenacting divine mythostruments found in these earlier and later cultures. logical events in elaborately staged productions. Classical Greek In Ancient Greece music played an essential role in religious drama eventually developed out of these religious traditions, in festivals, marriage ceremonies, funeral rites, and banquet gathparticular from the music, dances, and dithyrambs (rhythmic erings. Many of these musical events appear in Greek vase verses) of Dionysian worship. The god Dionysos is shown playing paintings. Sir John Beazley the frame drum and the assembled a comprehensive women and men who particicollection of nearly 70,000 pated in his rites were highly records of photographs, identified with the frame drawings, and notes on drum, krotalas, and cymbals these vases, which has been along with the double flute. preserved at the Ashmolean The military pyrrhic war Museum at Oxford. This coldances set to frame drumlection is online and useful ming were also incorporated in helping to determine the into the religious festivals frequency of the representaand dramatic theater. This tions of musical instruputs percussion at the root of ments, how the instruments the development of western were played, and in what theater. Knowing the widecontexts.1 spread and ancient connecThere is a tendency tion between drumming and among scholars to dismiss dance forms, and that Greek the importance of percusdancers were highly identision. The percussion instrufied with the frame drum, ments may be dealt with cymbals, and krotalas, it is Greek Vase painting, Circa 5th century BCE, Eros, Dionysos and Ariadne briefly, and last, which exhard to visualize Greek actly reflects the unimportance of their role in Greek music. dance developing first to melodic instruments with percussion The only function of a percussion instrument was to emphasize added later. the rhythm which was already inherent in a melody, usually bePercussion instruments were considered to be particularly iming played on an aulos or barbitos, or being sung or chanted; the bued with spiritual or shamanistic power that could influence percussion sounds did not form part of the music in their own and transform consciousness and therefore reality. Percussion right.2 played a key role in the sacred mystery rites at Eleusis dedicated I believe that this is an inaccurate understanding of the role to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, that drew participercussion played in the development of the music, dance, and pants from the entire Greek world for over a thousand years. religious rites of ancient Greece. Players of frame drums are faPersephone, kidnapped by Hades, the ruler of the underworld, is miliar with the melodic interplay created by the overtones of the forced to spend half of the year in the realm of the dead. She sits strokes on the drum. The great Nubian musician Hamsa El Din on her throne in the nether world while her frame drum hangs teaches that traditional Nubian folk songs evolved from the overhead. This recalls the ancient shamanistic function of the melodies created by the sequence of overtones inherent in the frame drum that enables the initiate to descend into the underspecific rhythm associated with the song. It is clear in his mind world, experience a symbolic death, and return reborn to the livthat rhythm comes first and the melody develops in part from ing. Persephone is recalled to the world of the living through the the sounds created by the rhythm. This can be particularly true sound of cymbals, gongs, frame drums, and bullroarers. They when the primary percussion instrument is the frame drum, as called Demeter (the noisy) from the noise of the cymbals and it is in Nubian Egypt and was in ancient Greece. drums which was made in searching for Kore (Persephone).4 As in most ancient cultures, Greek percussion instruments are The importance of the frame drum and cymbal in these rites is thought to predate the melodic instruments. Rhythmic music indicated in this ancient ritual based on the Eleusinian formula:
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I have eaten from the drum (tympanon, tambourien); I have drunk from the cymbal (kymbalon); I have carried the sacred dish; I have stolen into the inner chamber.5 The goddesses Cybele, Aphrodite, Artemis, Demeter, and Persephone are associated with round frame drums, gongs, cymbals, and clappers. The Muses, the goddesses of music, dance, and inspiration, are often depicted with frame drums and krotalas along with flutes, kitharas, and lyres. Catullus has left a vivid description of Cybeles worship: Come, follow me to the house of the Phrygian Cybele, to the grove of the Phrygian goddess! There sounds the clang of the cymbals, there echo the tympanons (frame drums), there the Phrygian flutist plays upon his deep-sounding, twisted reed. There the Maenads, adorned with ivy, toss their heads wildly.6 Aristophanes opens his play Lysistrata with her complaint on the lack of women responding to her call to gather: Ah! if only they had been invited to a Dionysian reveling, or a feast of Pan or Aphrodite or Genetyllis, why! the streets would have been impassable for the thronging tympanons (frame drums)!7 This gives us a vivid picture of how these festival processions filled the streets with dancing and drumming. The priestesses at the famous oracles of Delphi and Dodona were also associated with the frame drum and gongs. The rhythms and sounds of these instruments played a key role in inducing the prophetic trance of the priestesses who functioned as the oracle. The oracles were as important to the political and private lives of the ancient Greeks as are contemporary polling services in the United States. Before any major military, governmental, or political decision was made, the oracles were consulted. The Greek word for frame drum, tympanon, is often translated as tambourine (frame drum with jingles), which is not necessarily accurate. It is not until approximately 250 C.E. that jingles are clearly depicted on the frame drum in Roman sculptures of Dionysian rites. Tympanon has also been translated as timpani,

Greek Vase painting, Circa 5th century BCE, Maenad with Krotalas

leading some scholars to assert that the Greeks had kettle drums. The average frame drum was approximately 12 to 16 inches in diameter and the shells appear to be two to three inches wide. Most appear to have skin heads (goat or cow skin) on one side of the frame only. Many of the drums heads are painted with elaborate designs, and often the drums are decorated with ribbons attached to the outer frame. Pellet bells may have been attached to the frame, but it is impossible to be certain from the depictions. Some historians suggest that some of the drums depicted on the vase paintings have bowl-shaped frames and call these kettle drums. The frames of these drums appear very narrow, in the range of a normal frame drum of two to three inches. It is impossible to tell if this is an accurate understanding of the illustration or a distortion of the perspective of the frame drum by the artist. I am unfamiliar with any bowl-shaped frame drums found in excavations from the ancient Mediterranean world or made currently. I have found no representations of drums being played with sticks. Different hand positions are depicted on the frame drums, possibly indicating various styles. Most often the drums are played by dancing priestesses and priests of Dionysos holding the drum vertically and from below with their left hand and playing the dominate strokes with the right hand. Some drums clearly have handles at the bottom and are being held by the handle. There are a few representations of the Muse shown playing the frame drum in a seated position with the drum on one knee and played with the opposite hand and arm. The goddess Cybele is often shown seated on a throne, holding the frame drum and a libation bowl. In one very clear instance she is shown playing the drum in a style that resembles many contemporary techniques used on the North African and Middle Eastern
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the right hand. The sistrum is tar (frame drum) or the gaval not a prominently depicted infrom Azerbaijan. strument and was probably A majority of the frame more associated with the drummers from ancient Egyptian rites of Isis that Greece appear to have been were finding their way into women, although there are Greece. more representations of male Viewing the images of the frame drummers on the vases ancient percussionists is powthan in any other ancient erful and inspiring. I will be Mediterranean culture. The showing several hundred imsculptural representations ages at my presentation at have primarily been of godPASIC 2004, and afterwards I desses prominently holding or will post many of the images playing the frame drum. The Greek Vase painting, Circa 5th century BCE, Maenad with Frame Drum on my Website, frame drum appears to be the www.layneredmond.com. During the presentation I will also only drum of the ancient Greeks. briefly demonstrate a number of these instruments. Ill conclude The percussion instrument appearing most often in the vase this brief overview of ancient Greek percussion with the words of paintings is identified as the Krotalon. However this term is the 5th-century playwright, Aeschylus, describing the music of used by writers to indicate a number of different percussion inDionysian worshipers: struments. To add to the confusion, it is also spelled krotalum, krotalas, and crotals. Some writers indicate that these are castaOne on the fair-turned pipe fulfills netstwo small pieces of metal or wood clicked together in one His song, with the warble of fingered trills hand like contemporary castanets. Some say the krotalas were The soul to frenzy awakening. constructed of two small cymbals on the ends of joined wooden From another the brazen cymbals ring. clappers, and instruments like this have been found in Egyptian The aulos blares out, but beneath is the moan excavations. Of the bull-voiced mimes, unseen, unknown, There are vase paintings that could represent both of these And in deep diapason the shuddering sound types of instruments. The type of krotola most often represented Of drums, like thunder, beneath the ground. is probably a split reed or cane, which clacked together when shaken with the hand. According to the writer Eustathius it was ENDNOTES made of shell and brass attached to wood.8 Although there is a 1. http://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/BeazleyAdmin/Script2/TheArchive.htm depiction of the goddess Artemis playing the krotalas, these Musical instruments depicted on Greek vases in the Beazely collection: clackers most frequently appear in Dionysian dance scenes. In aulos (pipes, double flutes), 2366 records; lyre, 2078 records; kithara, these scenes they are played by male satyrs and women maenads 1033 records; krotala, 569 records; tympanon (frame drum), 355 and often accompanied by double flute players. records; tympana (frame drum), 44 records; cymbals, 6 records; and In the Beazley Vase Collection, the krotalas appear on 569 syrinx (panpipes), 4 records. No sistrums show up in the Beazely vase Greek vases from the Black figured (app. 610510 BCE) and Red collection. figured (app. 530400 BCE) periods, which means they appear 2. Landels, John G. Music in Ancient Greece and Rome. Pg. 81. London earlier than the frame drums, which do not appear until the and New York, Routledge, 2001. Red-figured period. They are played by both men and women, but there are noticeably more women players than men. Most of- 3. Strabo 10.3.9, Greek Geography C1st BCC1st AD 4. From The Ravenna scholiast on Aristoph. Ach. 709; quoted in The ten the performer is dancing and plays a set of krotalas in each Gong at Donona, A.B. Cook, J.H.S., vol. xxii, 1902. hand, but sometimes they play only one set in one hand. In some 5. Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, trs. by G.W. symposium scenes male youths are shown lounging on couches Butterworth, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1960, c. 1919. while playing the krotalas. Although the krotalas appear more 6. Catullus: Latin poet (84 BCE (?)54 BCE) fragment quoted in frequently than any other percussion instrument on the vases, Quasten, Johannes translated by J. Kroll. Music & Worship in Pagan deities are most often depicted in sculptural form holding the & Christian Antiquity. frame drum. 7. Aristophanes. Lysistrata. 410 BCE. Anonymous translator. Online at The kymbala, kymbalon, or krembala were sets of small hand http://eserver.org/drama/aristophanes/lysistrata.txt cymbals (approximately six inches in diameter). One was held in 8. 12th-century Byzantine Greek scholar Eustathius. each hand by the performer and struck against each other. Cymbals appear most often in combination with frame drums. Layne Redmond is an acclaimed drummer, composer, and author. The krupezion, used by flute players, is possibly a metal inShe teaches and performs internationally, specializing in the strument attached to the shoe to keep time. small, hand-held frame drum played primarily in the ancient The xylophon is an unusual instrument (also referred to as an Mediterranean world. She is the author of When the Drummers Apulian rattle) played by women. It is held in the left hand and Were Women. PN played with the right fingertips. It appears that it could be similar to a scraper percussion instrument like the Latin guiro, but there is much uncertainly about this instrument. The xeistron or sistrum (metal rattle) was usually played with
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